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We Almost Suffocated in the Trailer with the Others in Victoria, Texas after a Terrible Journey from El Salvador

When so many people died in the trailer bringing immigrants from Laredo to Victoria, Texas, the Honduran Consulate called Casa Juan Diego to ask if we could receive the Honduran survivors if the Immigration and Naturalization Service would release them. We said yes. It was reported in the media that possibly we would receive them, but they were not released. In the days following the tragedy, many reporters came to ask if the victims had arrived; they wanted to speak with them in order to report more personally what had happened. We had to always say that they had not arrived. Immigration kept them hidden in a hotel, interviewing them as witnesses against the coyotes. Later it came out that the majority would be deported.

A few days later, when the press was no longer calling, we were surprised to receive several men who had managed to leave the trailer before Immigration had arrived.

We have the custom that before Mass each Wednesday one of our guests tells the story of his journey to the United States. On Wednesday May 21 a man who we will call Angel told his story. After speaking for a half hour about the terrible sufferings during his journey at every step, Angel mentioned that he almost died with the others in Victoria and started to tell the whole group of guests of our houses gathered for Mass the details of the hours inside the trailer. This is his story.

Working in a Maquiladora

I was working in a maquiladora in El Salvador which is called Consul Tex. In this maquila we made the shirts for the football and basketball teams of the NFL and NBA. They didn’t pay us enough to live on. I have four-year-old twin daughters and another younger daughter and I couldn’t provide for my family on the salary they paid me. For example, a pair of shoes for my daughters costs $20.00 in El Salvador and they don’t last more than a month or two. We now have to pay for school, not only for registering a child, but also for electricity and water for the school, in addition to school supplies, uniforms and all. Many children are out of school because their parents do not have enough money to send them. The company paid us $35 or $40 a week-and we knew that they sold the shirts for $200 to $500 each. If they had paid us $60 a week, we would have been able to live and send my daughters to school.

The Mañosos

When the three of us, my brother, my sister and I, left El Salvador, we were happy that we were coming to the United States. We started out in a bus from the border of El Salvador and Guatemala. We changed buses for one to Esquintla and thus Tecún Umán. We arrived at 2:30 in the morning and when we were in Tecún Umán we went toward the Suchiate River, the border of Mexico and Guatemala. On the other side of the river seven mañosos (clever, crafty robbers, rapists and murderers) came out. They tied up my brother and me and raped our sister before our eyes. They laughed when they were doing the act and they beat us. When they got bored, they left, and then we didn’t want to continue toward our destination, but the three of us talked and decided to go on.

We started to walk and arrived near Hidalgo. just as the train was leaving. We jumped on and went toward Tapachula, where we spent the rest of the day. In the afternoon while we were waiting on the platform for the train, mañosos arrived again and then my brother ran and I grabbed my sister’s hand. We began to run. Another migrant stayed behind and they caught him and beat him and he couldn’t stand up. We brothers and sisters got together again and at about 1:00 a.m. the train came and we got on. We hadn’t gone five kilometers when mañosos stopped the train. We ran, and lost my brother. The guy running behind us had not crossed the fence when they shot him and he cried out for us to help him. I couldn’t help him because I was bringing my sister.

We began to walk toward Huistla, and arriving there we walked all along the train track. Arriving at the check point la Arrozera, there were the mañosos. When we saw them we began to walk back the other way. When we arrived in Huistla, I asked a man how we could get through. He told us to circle around and we started to walk through the canals.

When we arrived at another town we went to a house where the lady told us no when we asked for water. She said that it was already enough what they had done to her. She told us to leave, and if not, she would call Immigration.

We continued walking to catch the train. It was already going, but we managed to get on and there was Immigration. On the train there were about 300 of us and they caught more than half. When we got off we went around the check point and walked five hours, got on the train again and arrived in Tonelá, where we spent two days.

We got on another train and there more mañosos awaited us. They robbed us, took our clothes, and left us both naked. I only had undershorts. I left my sister in some trees and found a house where I sought help. The woman didn’t believe me and went to get my sister and brought her to her house. She helped us. Then we took the train to Tierra Blanca where the mañosos followed us again. My sister went into a nearby house and they beat me. They told her to come out or they would kill me. But I told her not to come out, and finally they left. I couldn’t stand up because they had beaten me hard. But the woman came out and helped me and took me to her house and gave us food. We were there four days until I could walk. Then we went out to catch another train that went to Orisaba and there they pursued me to get my sister and we ran until we arrived at a shelter and they let us in. We were there eight days.

Then we went out again to catch the train and when we got off we went to a house. The woman gave us food, but called Immigration. When we say the Immigration van we ran. At that moment the train came and we were able to get on. We continued our journey to Monterrey, then went to Nuevo Laredo and there they helped us and I was able to find work for my sister. She stayed in Nuevo Laredo. I swam the Rio Grande to this side.

We Enter the Fatal Trailer

I met another Salvadoran in Laredo, Texas, and we went walking. A man asked us if we had anyone in Houston who could help us and we said yes. He agreed that in two days he would take us in a van.

When we got into the van, he told us to get down on the floor. The van started off and when we reached the trailer truck he told us to run and get on and we did. Soon more people started to get on and the box, the container, was filled and the door was closed. The truck started to move. At first it was cool, but after a while on the road the trailer started to heat up. There were about 70 people inside. Soon there was no air. We started to become weak, with an immense sweating. The women started to become agitated, to run, to cry out and to try to open the trailer. A baby began crying and crying. Nobody could open the door. Then two men became angry and said if they would not be quiet, they would kill the child.

Then began a total disorder, chaos. People began to fall to the floor, all desperate to get out. They grouped and massed by the door, one on top of the other, and thus it happened that many more people died. Those who were already on the floor kicked them. For this reason there was a great number of deaths. Some died of heart attacks and others of asphyxiation.

We stayed at the back of the truck. I fainted from the heat, without drinking water, without eating, without pure air. We didn’t even know when the truck stopped. When I came to, someone was already opening the door. When it was opened, several bodies fell to the ground. Then the driver unhitched the cab and left. Later, people began to throw themselves out of the truck and fell, lying down, all dizzy and faint.

The other Salvadoran and I woke up a little in the fresh air. We were not the first to leave the truck, because some had not fainted. As we began walking, we came to ourselves and went into the brush because we saw helicopters belonging to Immigration, and patrol cars. After this, a man drove by and gave us a ride. We explained by signs what had happened, since he didn’t speak Spanish. He had seen the trailer, with the bodies falling to the ground. He took us to his house and gave us food and a place to bathe. That is how we saved ourselves. His friend at his house spoke Spanish and he told us of all that was coming out on the news about the truck and the migrants who had died. We saw the news. We spent two days at his house and later they sketched a little map for us of how to get to Houston.

We started to walk along the highway at night, going off the road when a vehicle was passing. We walked six hours and then tried to get a ride. First, a truck passed and didn’t want to stop for us, then a trailer that didn’t want to bring us. Then another trailer with bunk beds inside gave us a ride to the edge of Houston. There we saw the police and we were afraid. We stayed there and spent the day hidden in some trees.

When it got dark we started to walk again, into Houston, where we slept in the unfinished con-struction of a house. At dawn the workers arrived, including many Mexicans. We asked them if they could get us a job. They said, “We are immigrants also. You’ll have to wait for the patron to ask. We cannot say.” We asked them where we could talk on the telephone (to make a call to the relatives of my Salvadoran friend in Houston). They sent us to a store a few blocks away to buy a phone card. We bought the card, but couldn’t make the connection. We didn’t know the codes.

We came back and asked a man waiting for a bus to help us dial the phone number. He looked like he didn’t trust us, but he dialed the number. He couldn’t get through, either, and he lent us his cell phone. Unfortunately, the other Sal-vadoran’s uncle said he couldn’t help us, because his family in El Salvador had had its own tragedy and he had sent all his money there for a funeral. We asked the man who had let use the telephone if he could help us. “Let me think, and ask my life’s companion,” he said. He called his wife and she said yes. His mother-in-law came for us and took us to their house and gave us food and a place to bathe and clean clothes, because we were very dirty. We asked them if they knew of a church or somewhere that could help us. Yes, they said, and they brought us to Casa Juan Diego, where they received us. We spent two days at Casa Juan Diego before going to be with my family in another city. This was the fifth house of hospitality run by Catholics that we had stayed at on our journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S.

I can hardly believe I am alive. I never want what happened to us to happen to another person. I came to the United States to work and help my family get ahead a little. I still don’t know anything about my brother who was lost, even though I have spoken with my family in El Salvador.

I knew before coming that the trip to the U. S. was very hard, but I had never seen things like these. If I had known, at no time would I have allowed my sister to come. But now I will go on to try to begin work right away so I can send money to my family in El Salvador.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, July-August 2003.